When I was younger, my family would come to London and see show, meaning that I’d seen most of the big musicals before I moved here. However, one that I’d missed and was curious to tick off my musicals list was Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon. It’s also one from which I knew no songs beforehand and so I arrived at the theatre very curious as to whether this would become as loved by me as Cameron Mackintosh’s longest-running production – Les Miserables (for me, still the most powerful musical on the stage). The short answer is that it didn’t. Although it was an enjoyable afternoon, I think it unlikely I’d choose to see this show again.
Miss Saigon is set in Vietnam, both during and after the Vietnam War of the 1970s. In to this war zone we enter Dreamland, a club run by the less than savoury character The Engineer, whose success depends on keeping the American GIs who frequent the club happy. New to this existence is the young and impressionable Kim, who has fled her home to try and make a better life. She is not like the other girls there and catches the attention of the Americans. Here she is thrown together with Chris (Alistair Brammer), an American soldier clearly damaged by the war he is a part of and in need of a light of hope – for him that’s Kim.
I can’t say I found their relationship romantic – she is after all initially bought for him for the night by a fellow soldier, so hardly a romantic start. I was also less than convinced at the overnight falling in love either, in contrast to Marius’s love at first sight reaction to Cosette in Les Miserables, which always seems to be played in such a way as to make it believable, with the added youth of the characters in that scenario helping as well. Here I just didn’t buy it. Ultimately the war ends and Kim and Chris are separated, leading to tragic consequences.
As you can probably tell, I wasn’t overly keen on the story! I also found Chris to be a very irritating character, effectively using Kim as his emotional crutch before moving on with his life so easily, leaving it then to the women in his life to be the grown ups and make the difficult and in some cases tragic choices. I did however think that the role of Kim is a fantastic role for a woman on stage, as she drives the production and she is currently superbly played by Eva Noblezada, who makes you feel genuine sympathy and empathy for Kim. She also has a fantastic voice, always essential in a production like this.
As for the supporting characters, I loved Jon Jon Briones who as The Engineer is there to provide the light relief, as we see him desperately trying to reach America for a new life, where he wants to live The American Dream (a musical number which was a highlight of the show for me and brilliantly pulled off by Jon Jon Briones). As I wasn’t particularly keen on the main plot, I enjoyed these lighter interludes even more.
The songs as a whole, although enjoyable at the time, didn’t cause me to leave the theatre remembering them, which for me is a crucial element of any musical. The set is impressive, from the Vietnam village sets, to the iconic moment a helicopter arrives to evacuate the U.S. military base, which is done in a very realistic way, through the use of visuals, light and sound, as well as the prop itself.
So, despite being very all acted and including some strong voices, I didn’t fall for Miss Saigon. I was lucky enough to see the Donmar’s recent revival of City of Angels which, by comparison, had me leaving the theatre wishing I could see it again immediately and buy the cast soundtrack. So, this was an enjoyable afternoon yes, but certainly for me, not a musical that will stay with me enough to motivate me to go again.
Miss Saigon continues its run at the Prince Edward Theatre and is currently booking through until 19th December 2015. More information can be found of the production’s website.